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Sage Musings At Sea

March 23, 2018

San Juan, Puerto Rico to Georgetown, Bahamas

March – 1320hrs (off watch)
Exiting from San Juan was nerve racking. For several days enormous northerly swells had been roaring down from the north east slamming into Puerto Rico’s north shore – a surfers delight. However, the waves were breaking on either side of the harbour entrance leaving a 100 metre gap in which to punch through the swell and escape the embrace of San Juan’s harbour. Dramatic especially when there is little wind on which to rely if the engine fails. I think that is every sailors thought, always thinking of ‘what-ifs’. At least that’s me.

Exiting San Juan Harbour through the surf

Escaping the harbour we set out to sea with very light ENE winds, big swell, sunny day and promises of difficulties in keeping the wind in the sails. San Juan recedes in the distance looking like stalagmites in the larger landscape of distant mountains and big seas. Funny how insignificant the city seems when viewed from a receding distance. However, the impact of the city’s waste follows us for miles offshore as the storm surge has swept all sorts of detritus from the shores into the sea. Plastic abounds caught in palm leaves, logs and other garbage. Where will the plastic go this time?
As we roll west like drunken sailors ships come and go reminding us that we really need to install an AIS onto Sage to assist our safe navigation through the Bahamas and up the east coast towards…

March 9th – 1410hrs
Off watch once again looking out at this vast circle of blue that reflects back the rays of sunshine and the blue sky. Flying fish abound free from the fear of marauding birds. Only occasionally does one miscalculate their flight path and crashes onto Sage’s deck. Seems to always happen at night.
Last night was no exception. Leaping out of the water, probably thinking he was escaping being eaten by a larger fish, he careened into the dodger window missing smacking me on the forehead. I heard a whack and getting up to investigate it didn’t take long to not see the critter but smell him. Nothing like smelling a flying fish that is going through all the gyrations of throwing himself back into the water. And they really don’t like to be picked up. Of course, being quite slimy they are hard to hold on to but thinking the wings would be drier I had him. Get him off the deck and wash my hands to rid myself of the smell. Done…he’s free. Free till the next larger fish picks him up on their radar and the flight begins once again.
Amazing this struggle for survival that goes on below Sage’s keel and we’re oblivious to it. We’re not fishing yet. I don’t really like to fish until we’re closer to land where, if I catch a large offshore fish, I can use it to trade for some favour from a local. Usually offshore fishing brings in fish too large for 2 people to consume before it starts smelling like a flying fish on deck. We don’t have a freezer and hell we have enough supplies on board to last a few months.
Today the wind is light (7kn) and we drift along at 3-4 knots enjoying the fact we can read, cook, walk around and be comfortable for a change. The number of times we’ve able to do those things on a flat deck since leaving Grenada in November have been very limited so we’re enjoying this lazy sail for as long as it lasts.

March 9th – 1700hrs
Wind has settled in from the SE providing enough for us to travel at 6knots. However, off to port lies the Dominican Republic and dark, large heavy clouds gather over the mountains and there’s deep growling coming from the clouds. Ominous I would say and I don’t like the idea of a rainy storm filled night. Lightening is one of my most feared phenomena at sea. Too may boats we know have been hit and right now I just want to run away and hide!
Being philosophical though I guess this is as good a place to be as any other. The wind blows gently, a gorgeous sunset is in the making, the sea state is relatively quiet and Connie has been hard at work conjuring up a pork and eggplant curry.

March 10th – 1230hrs
Wow, what a night. Ran smack dab into a frontal system. Felt like we ran into a brick wall driving a Ferrari at a speed way beyond what those cars should be driven at. We first heard the thunder over to portside on the DR coastline. We chuckled thinking we were north of the disturbance but after dinner the skies clouded, the wind circled the clock, the rain drove down like pellets, the lightening was like a strobe light and the thunder made it feel like we were inside a taiko drum in a world competition. If that wasn’t enough 2 ships appeared off our starboard side. We were able to call them and despite us being less than a ¼ mile away they saw us on neither radar nor by naked eye. Not surprising as the rain pelted down and we had limited visibility. The strobe cut through it all and the ships picked us up right away. Just another reminder that we need AIS.

Today our 2 foresails are deployed fully spreading white canvas like butterfly wings. We rock and roll downwind and see another boat(Presto) off to port. Call them up, trade stories on last night’s light and water show and discover we’re both headed the same way. So just the two of us out here trying to trap the wind to push us north-westward.

Stretching off to the northeast are the Turks and Caicos, lying in a circular jewel of turquoise water and coral. It beckons strongly but does not have a great reputation for welcoming yachts – expensive cruising permits, very expensive supplies and unwelcome to yachtie-trash like ourselves! Ah well their loss…we had our fill of champagne, caviar and baubles in St. Barts so let’s move on.

March 11th – 1515hrs
This morning felt like torture. We hadn’t sailed well last night. It’s our fault. We didn’t have the right combination of sails up and we simply didn’t make the miles we should have. Normally this wouldn’t be so bad but the seas were very uncomfortable, our energy levels low and it was dark as hell reducing our initiative to do something about it. Sometimes sailing just isn’t made to be fun.

This afternoon we make slow headway with a SW wind (where did that come from?). Sun shines, the water on deck is warm for a shower and drinks are on the agenda in the late afternoon. Still, I just want to get there.

March 12th – 1345hrs
Ups and downs of sailing are vicarious. Some times things don’t seem to go in ones favour. For this trip we’ve had light winds, contrary winds, favourable winds, very strong winds and now we find ourselves battling increasingly stronger contrary winds and we’re only 60 miles from our destination with a front approaching, rain on the way and winds that aren’t producing comfortable conditions.

It’s simply hard to be positive all the time. And what do we do to hide our disappointments from others onboard. It’s impossible. Moods go up and down and we just have to take those into account and do the best we can to be positive. It helps us to keep going.

Arrival – crystal clear waters and a bottom that can be seen with and anchorage in 2 metres.

San Juan – Puerto Rico

March 5, 2018

How did we end up in San Juan, Puerto Rico? Ummm, this was not a planned stop but when we were sailing by it was either keep going in uncertain winds or stop in San Juan. Stopping didn’t sound so bad considering to sail west from Fajardo had been a little stressful what with shallow seas and breaking waves threatenjng to roll us onto our beam ends.

The entrance to San Juan was not wide but what thrilled us was the fortifications at the port side entrance that has beckoned to sailors for 6 centuries. The picture below is of the current governor’s home and the red portals are the original western gates to the old city where sailors anchored and entered the city. This would be a great place to anchor today but it’s prohibido!

The fortifications stretch for miles and are partially destroyed through successive centuries – not from warfare but simply through the growth of the city. Walls were torn down to make way for the expansion of the city to the east and south. It leaves the old city behind the walls intact for the most art. Below is the governor’s mansion at night.

Now the old city is a mecca for the cruise ship industry. It is the one place we’ve seen that can effectively absorb passengers from 4 cruise ships at a time. Streams of people flood the streets but the jewellry shops, restaurants, art galleries and historical moonuments absorb the influx and one can still find quiet places within the fort itself or in some small quiet green spot to contemplate the history this place represents.

Not only do the cobblestone streets absorb the tourist but many of the original fortifications remain providing glimpses of what protected this area for so many centuries. Guard towers ring the fortifications providing beautiful views over the north Atlantic Ocean.

The lighthouse continues to welcome sailors into the harbour and one is not to be disappointed by the range of things to see and do in San Juan let alone the rest of the island.

The National Parks maintain tbe old fortifications and it easily takes a day just to walk around what’s left of the old fort.

And views both into the inner bays of San Juan harbour and

Views into the old city

And nighttime strolls tbrough the back streets of a 16th Century town

And more daytime strolls

And

And

And

And

But what of San Juan today. Despite damages from two hurricanes in the 2017 summer season, Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the lights are back on (with very occassional black outs), and life is returning to normal while repairs to infrastructure continue. One can see some of the damage even in high end places like Paseo Caraibe with windows blown out of penthouses and torn balcony railings.

But for the most part San Juan continues to function well. This is our first big city since leaving South Africa more than a year ago. We’re enjoying seeing a city with bike paths, a public transportation system that costs .35c/senior, art galleries, theatres and an incredible array of restaurants and great places to buy food. Not only are there art galleries of high quality but in many places art adorns public and private spaces.

And

And

And

We’ve wandered the streets, walked the beaches, sampled the food, gone to the theatre talked to the people and are always amazed at the diversity, the pride of the Puerto Rican people, the quality of the food and the determination to make things work. Before I end this I do want to mention a visit to the hotel Vanderbilt located in Condado. Our evening guide on a tour of the old city recommended a visit. I am sure it’s not a hotel we could afford to stay in but we sure had fun walking through, sitting in the bar and generally getting a good feel for the place. It’s a mixture of Art Deco and modern; blending the two perfectly. Below are a few photos and I am sure you can go online to see more if you feel your wallet can afford a few nights of luxury.

And

And

Blessed with good winds (unlikely) we hope to be in the Bahamas soon.

Racing Through the Islands

February 23, 2018

We’re on a roll. Having had a great visit with our friend Sue travelling from Martinique to Dominica and on to Guadeloupe we thought it best to get our act together in order to meet our deadline of being in the Bahamas by March 10th. With limited time we were going to have to race through areas of the Caribbean that many rave about; names such as St. Barts, St Marteen, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and many more. We just don’t have time to meander so we pushed off from Riviere Sens in Guadeloupe hoping to make a stop in Montserrat. Sailing was vigorous with winds in the high teens with seas on the beam. Prominent on Montserrat is an active volcano with clouds of steam rising from the Soufriere Hills. These clouds of gaseous steam can be seen from Guadeloupe and Antigua.

Approaching Montserrat the volcanic activity kept our minds off Sage’s rock and roll environment and the salt water spray cascading over the decks. Closer and closer we came and the more in awe we were as we watched from Sage’s deck. We kept to the outside of the 2 mile marine exclusion zone but that still gave us great views of the volcanic activity.

The church is almost completely buried

 

Dramatic volcano on Montserrat

The lee side of Montserrat provided a smooth water slide up the lower half of the west coast with spectacular vistas of the extent to which the volcano changed the quiet life of Plymouth. Half buried churches, boulders the size of houses, mountains of debris flows like rivers down the slopes amongst hundreds of abandoned homes. Wanting to spend the night on the west coast we proceeded northwards but the wind was whipping up the seas on the northwest coast so we abandoned the thoughts of more volcano exploration and set our sites for another 30 miles to the west before getting to an open anchorage on Nives.

From Nives we quickly moved on to St. Barts for a hit of the high life. An old Dutch settlement that fell into French hands and now boasts stores like Hermes, Ralph Lauren and numerous bars and restaurants to while away your time while onshore from your luxury yacht. Have never seen so many super yachts anchored in one place at one time. We counted 8 luxury motor yachts in the anchorage one night. For us the anchorage was one of the worst. We were thrown from one bulkhead to another in one of the worst anchorages in the Caribbean, next to Les Saintes in Guadeloupe. The glitterati had their stabalizers out onboard their 80 foot+ yachts and were drinking champagne on the aft deck.

 

Lined up waiting for the caviar and fried chicken!

Loading up on Hermes travel bags and Gucci deck shoes we hurriedly left the anchorage for the British Virgin Islands. And what a ride. 25knot winds on a broad reach which should be great. However, the sea state left us relieved to arrive in Cooper Island at 0600hrs. We stopped, had breakfast, a sleep and then set sail for Road Town for clearance. One look at the anchorage for customs and immigration clearance sent us scurrying to Soper’s Hole at the west end of Tortola.

Sopers is now where we sit with 30 knots of wind pushing us around the anchorage which is littered with mooring buoys set in place by MoreSeacure ($30/night), the scourge of the BVIs. They have covered the bay, and other bays in the BVIs, with mooring buoys making it difficult to anchor without getting tangled up in one of their buoys. My philosophy is if we get tangled up in one of their buoys I have no qualms about cutting their buoy away. I am not paying $30/night to anchor Sage in a bay that only has, in this season, 3 boats in the bay at night and no services ie water, fuel etc. This is my pet peeve as you can tell but it is something that is increasingly evident throughout the Caribbean.

We rented a car yesterday and toured the island. Everywhere evidence of the devastation of last season’s 2 hurricanes could be seen; hurricane Irma and hurricane Maria. There is destruction everywhere. In Soper’s Hole there were three marinas and numerous businesses. There are now no fully functioning marinas and only 2 businesses up and running; D’Ats Coffee and Pusser Landing. Everything else is closed due to extensive damages. What was a thriving destination with numerous services is now catering only to boats coming in to clear customs and immigration. Last night there were only 3 boats that stayed overnight with everyone else moving on. Customs/immigration doesn’t even have a building – their offices are a tent with free air conditioning!

As for the rest of Tortola, everywhere shows the strain of recovery. Damaged roads, businesses closed, yachts scattered in the mangroves, abandoned homes, roofs torn off, hurricane anchorages (?) littered with the skeletons of yachts on their sides or upside down (catamarans). For everyone its catastrophic and will take years to recover and clean up.

For us the worst to see is people who owned boats here and lost them in the hurricane who have done nothing, or the insurance company has done nothing, to take responsibility for cleaning up the remains. We as sailors must take responsibility for cleaning up what was ours instead of leaving it to the locals to deal with and to pay for the costs.

Very sad for sailors to see. Everywhere in the US and British Virgin Islands there were boats in trees, piled in middle of lagoons, in the mangroves and on the edge of the roads. Clean up is slow.

From here it’s on to Puerto Rico where expect to see more impacts from last seasons hurricanes.

Dominica Revisited

January 28, 2018

Heading north in mid January we were keen to visit Dominica once again. We had visited Portsmouth twice before in the previous season; one time going north through the windward chain and again heading south to escape the 2017 hurricane season.

The 2017 hurricane season was not kind to Dominica. Hurricane Maria cut a swath of destruction travelling up the centre of the island destroying much in its path. Being in Grenada at the time left us feeling helpless to assist other than providing cash donations to organizations busy organizing goods travelling northwards by boat.

One of just a few damaged buildings in Portsmouth

Lunch anyone?

During the next few months before leaving Grenada stories of piracy, looting and desperation circulated through the cruising fleet which was readying themselves for the upcoming cruising season.

There was no way to verify the reports other than to keep our ears open for the most recent news. Leaving Grenada in November we slowly made our way north and in both Carriacou and St. Lucia we met up with Martin from Dominica.

Martin from PAYS

Martin was travelling through the windward islands as a representative of the Portsmouth Association of Yachting Services (PAYS) encouraging the cruising fleet to stop off in Dominica.

PAYS helps out visiting yachts with moorage on newly installed mooring buoys, tours of the island, water, supplies and numerous other items that boaters are always in search of.

Despite dire warnings of possible piracy on the Caribbean Safety and Security Net (CSSN) we found no verifiable information on any such attacks but the negative reporting has kept boats from visiting.

We arrived in Portsmouth late January 2018 and could not have had a more welcoming visit. Yes, the island still has a long way to go to recovery but vegetables are in the market, some fruits will soon hit the stores, communications (internet) are on their way and the hillsides are starting to green up. The people are as welcoming and friendly as always and, of course, everyone wants to talk about their experiences – one way to work through their tragedy.

We had a great tour up the Indian River with Eddison. The Indian River was badly

Connie, Eddison and Sue at the Indian River Bar

damaged from the floodwaters with trees down, the thick canopy ripped apart and a few wrecks at the entrance. Out of disaster comes a changed landscape that will provide plants otherwise unseen along the river before, due to a dense canopy, a chance to thrive. Eventually the canopy will again cover over the river and dominate.

We arrived in Dominica late in the day and were distressed to see so few boats in the anchorage. Tourism isn’t big in Dominica and for Portsmouth the yachting community offers a sorely needed business opportunity to get money circulating in the local community. If anyone in the yachting community reads this blog and is in the vicinity please stop by and offer your little bit to help them recover. As a cruiser with a little bit of flexibility with regards to time you can help directly with clean ups and reconstruction on damaged buildings and replacing roofs.

A garden fully recovered

Reflecting on 2017 – Cape Town to Martinique

December 30, 2017

Six thousand five hundred miles of sailing in the past 12 months took us from Cape Town to the Caribbean. This includes several trips up and down the Windward chain of Caribbean Islands.

It’s not as far as many other sailors have sailed this year but it’s a fair distance, more so in cultures and wealth than actual miles. Here in the Caribbean we are constantly struck by the wealth of the western world and the way this wealth is displayed. From private Caribbean islands to mega yachts to million dollar sailboats that sit in storage for the majority of the year, we are astounded.

It doesn’t seem to matter the summer hurricane season destroyed most of the sailing fleet in the northern Caribbean. New boats are arriving every day either by ship or delivered by professional crews. The fleet was decimated but the insurance companies are paying out and those who lost boats have money in their pockets to buy a new one. There are those that can’t afford, or choose not, to buy insurance that are hurting. However, I have heard expressed in this area by boat owners ‘if I lose my boat I have insurance so I can buy another’. And the cycle continues.

I guess we are an anachronism. We started offshore sailing in the 1980s in a 27 foot boat, a 35 foot sailboat was considered average and a 40 footer huge. The boats then may have had refrigeration but washing machines and microwaves were unheard of. Now the average size of sailboats is around 45 feet and equipped with all the mod cons and enough water making capacity to have a bath every day and communication technology to stay attached to the ups and downs of investments.

While unemployment rates in North America are at a 20 year low homelessness is ever increasing and the gap between those who have and those who have not is ever increasing but here in the Caribbean the party goes on and the money is flowing. Most of our sailing in the past 8 years has taken us through areas where there isn’t excess displays of wealth. Yes, there is wealth there but not like here.

Our next 8 months will take us deeper into the wells of wealth as we approach NYC. What are we going to discover? How are we going to react?

I hope for everyone 2018 will prove to be better than 2017. Let’s not forget how lucky we are just to have food on the table, a sunset to enjoy and friends and/or family to enjoy life with. Lets not forget the many that have way less and find ways to help out.

New Crew For Christmas

December 23, 2017

Digging deep into our storage locker we came upon two stowawayds (thanks to a very dear friend in Victoria, Annie Boldt). Trying to introduce them into the ways of the sea has been difficult as they are more used to sleds and ice. However, persistence and patience has paid dividends as we teach them the intricacies of navigating through the pirate infested waters of French Caribbean waters. Here are a few pictures of our new crew getting used to the ropes, so to speak Being armless has presented a few problems with winch work but they’re getting the hang of it and learning fast.

Steering has been a snap as they run between the sections of the steering wheel while trying to keep the Christmas tree in the upright position. Anchoring, of course, is a big component and again without arms, a challenge but I promised that some time in the far future I’ll fork out for an electric windlass so then all they have to do is push the button. And the there’s the dinghy. They love the engine and I’m always warning them of the water police and speeding through the anchorage. Finally, though, and the item they enjoy imbibing in to a big degree is the apres-work activities. I didn’t tell them that it’s not really Appleton rum but rather a great brand from Martinique called Clement Agricole.

MERRY CHRISTMAS – May You All Have A Jolly Season Along With Our Stowaways.

Bequia – The Windward Islands Gem

December 3, 2017

We knew the first time we sailed into Bequia it wouldn’t be the last time.

Which way should I go?

Bequia is a long way from anywhere. We first came here in March and returned again in July on our way south to Grenada for the hurricane season. This time our return was dramatic; sailing past the south-western point of the island in yet another squall and in company with two other boats.

I am still looking for the owner of this boat as I have a few other pictures to share with bim/her

I first read about Bequia in a sailing magazine back in the 1970s. It was an article about the traditional boatbuilders of the island. Although one still sees some of the old sailboats around there aren’t many.

A classic Bequia sailboat which may have been, at one time in its life, could have been a working fishboat

Where most of those skills are evident is in the fishboats. These are coastal fishboats best designed for skipping over the east trade winds chasing the mahi mahi and barracuda.

But that’s not all they catch. Bequia is one of the few areas left in the world where the hunting of whales is legal. We went to visit one of the villages on the east coast, Paget Farm, to see what evidence there is of whaling. Taking the local bus for EC $2 we were treated to a 20 minute ride over the hills to the east and a short run out and along the west coast with the blaring soca music to a small village close to the airport.

We got off the bus at Toko’s Bar and walked back through the village which creeps up the steep hillside bordering the rocky coastline. Tucked into the shoreline are a few places where local fishermen can drag their boats out of the water for protection. Here, there was evidence of whaling.

Is this the place where they keep the whale oil and ambergris?

Not only on doorways was there evidence of whaling but stories abound if one listens, and believes, the local folklore. I think though what happens these days is best represented by the boat below. When they do hunt and kill whales they still use traditional methods and are in open boats. Not a task for the unitiated.

Aptly named

Walking through the fishing fleet we caught a few glimpses from the boat names signifying who they put their faith in to return from the sea.

Jah takes the prize. Jah keeps them safe and Jah brings them back from the sea. I’m now wondering if I should have a portrait of Haile Selassie up on the bulkhead?

Looking for a little relaxation we headed back to Toko’s Bar, a place we had heard about on one of our previous visits but was also featured in a recent travel article in the Guardian. Toko’s is tucked under the shade of several trees and perched on the beach across from the small airport runway. There is no menu, lots of beer, friendly faces and a welcoming cook who greets you with the words “what would you like to eat today”. Of course, it has to be something from the sea so for the first time in a restaurant we said ‘lobster’ and lobster it was.

So good she won’t even look at the camera!

A huge plate of lobster with several salads and a Hinano for EC $90 for two!. Here we sat enjoying our meal with soaring frigate birds grabbing chunks of fish thrown to them by the fisherman and a very lively table of staff from the electric company having a liquid lunch with raucous and ribald conversation.

The kitchen window at Toko’s

Getting late so time to head home with stomachs full and a smile on our faces. That’s not hard to do in Bequia.

Connie just can’t let the political side down.

Cheryl , the owner of The Fig Tree restaurant, getting ready for the evening flood of customers and the yachties amateur jam session